As Las Vegas casinos begin their phased reopenings, Jan Jones Blackhurst — former two-term mayor, longtime industry executive, and current UNLV International Gaming Institute executive-in-residence — believes that the Las Vegas Strip will use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to reinvent itself, welcoming guests back safely but with no shortage of Las Vegas’ signature style.
Three months after the Las Vegas Strip shuttered its doors, there’s no doubt that many employees are eager to get back to work. But how long will it be before millions of tourists begin flocking to the city once again?
According to Jones Blackhurst, the return — much like the reopenings — will happen in phases.
“I hear people say that ‘Las Vegas will never come back from this,’ but that’s like saying Disneyland will never come back. Of course it will. I have no question that Las Vegas will come back. People are hungry for interaction; by their nature, people generally like to be with other people,” she said.
As casino reopenings have begun across the country, the gaming industry has seen a huge spike in demand for riverboat casinos and smaller properties. Jones Blackhurst believes we will see a similar demand in Las Vegas. Reopening metrics will begin with a surge in popularity from visitors in neighboring states, who will visit Las Vegas as an easily accessible and fun road trip destination. But international tourism and Vegas' once-booming meetings and conventions industry might have a longer road to recovery.
“As far as international travel goes, it will certainly come back, but the ‘when’ is not something we can directly control. As you see right now, the protocols for international travel change by the country and airline,” she said. “But I think that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will be key in bringing back these travelers by finding a commonality in process, procedures, and expectations. We want our international visitors to have clear rules and regulations that aren't different in every city and country that they visit.”
Before Las Vegas tourism can take off again, the industry must rebuild consumer and traveler confidence. The industry must reassure visitors that they are doing everything in their power to ensure a first-class experience that is as safe as before — if not even safer.
Opportunity for innovation
“Sometimes, adversity makes you reimagine yourself,” Jones Blackhurst said. “When you have to reimagine, that's when you get innovative. In the future, scientists will find a vaccine or an effective treatment for COVID-19, and that's great. But there's always going to be something else. We need to use this time to be innovative, to reimagine what our businesses and community can look like for the better.”
It’s hard to say exactly what Las Vegas’ future looks like in the new normal, but increased opportunity for online gambling, rethinking floor plans and use of space, and reconsidering entertainment options seems to be at the forefront of the conversation.
“I think as we reenter we reimagine,” she says, “I can't even envision all of the different options that may become available, but I know some pretty creative minds are thinking about it right now.”
Jones Blackhurst served as mayor of Las Vegas from 1991-99, and during that time, Las Vegas was the fastest growing city in the United States. Not only did it add tens of thousands of hotel rooms and millions of new tourists, but it also began growing as a community where people lived, worked, and raised their families.
Since then, the Las Vegas community has lived through countless tragedies: the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Great Recession, the Oct. 1 shootings, and outbreaks of Ebola and Legionnaires’ disease, just to name a few.
“People lost their families, their homes, and their jobs. We had to rebuild the city from an entirely different perspective. And each and every time, we did. And we will do it again,” said the former mayor. “But we need to work together, as a community, to learn how to manage through this kind of viral attack and to be prepared for when the next outbreak comes, whatever and whenever that may be.”